Bill O'Reilly doesn't understand blogs

The Fox News host wants to seem fair and balanced, but he can't resist painting blogs unfairly

Published May 28, 2009 6:45PM (EDT)

Bill O'Reilly, as we know, is an opponent of extremism wherever it can be found. So in discussing the politics of the Sonia Sotomayor nomination on his show Wednesday, O’Reilly observed to guest Dick Morris, “Have you listened to talk radio lately? Have you seen some of the right-wing Internet sites? The core conservative person -- and some of them are watching right now -- does not understand that the GOP is shrinking, and needs to expand.”

Fair enough, so far, and refreshing. Who would have expected O’Reilly to be the GOP's latest truth-teller? And what does it say about the state of the Republican Party that O’Reilly is the one who has to give lectures on open-mindedness? 

Sadly, while O'Reilly may be right that the Republican base is following all the wrong impulses lately, he didn't exactly cover himself in glory as he made that point.

In case you thought the Fox News host was taking the sober appraisal thing too seriously (and putting Stephen Colbert out of work), O’Reilly had his “Internet cop” Amanda Carpenter check out political blogs on both sides, to see what the crazies were saying about Sotomayor. Disgusted by a Hot Air commenter who wrote, “Unqualified, militant and socialist. NEXT, please. The GOP has to block any of Hussein’s picks,” O’Reilly replied, “You know, when you read something like that -- you know, nobody’s gonna block the pick. Do you ever think about who’s writing this? Does this person live in the United States?”

The answer to “who’s writing this,” of course, is “anyone who wants to.” That’s how blog comments work. O’Reilly, apparently failing to grasp this, moved on to liberal blogs, citing comments at Daily Kos, which he called "the most hateful Web site in the country," and Think Progress as "Daily Kos blog post" and "Think Progress blog post."

This is a practice called "nutpicking," defined by Urban Dictionary as "sifting through the comments of blogs, email threads, discussion groups and other user generated content in an attempt [to] find choice quotes proving that the advocates for or against a particular political opinion are unreasonable, uninformed extremists." It’s sort of like criticizing a play because people in the audience were talking on their cell phones, and it's one of O'Reilly's favorite tactics. In the past, he's compared Daily Kos to Nazis and the Klan, calling the liberal superblog "one of the worst examples of hatred has to offer." Apparently, it's gotten worse, since it earned that "most hateful" title yesterday. (Is O'Reilly unaware that the actual American Nazi Party has a web site?)

I suspect that O'Reilly is exploiting his audience's demographics here. His viewers skew elderly -- 59 percent are over 50 -- and are probably less likely to understand what a blog is, and how one works. If he wants to go looking for demons, there's hardly any method easier, or lazier, than nutpicking.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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Bill O'reilly Fox News Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court War Room